BlackBerry Bold 9900: The swan song of a standard
The last BlackBerry using the historic OS adds touch, but otherwise is the BlackBerry you've long known and perhaps lovedFollow @MobileGalen
Email. Setup is painful, as you step through poorly designed configuration screens where fields are hard to navigate via touch and text is tiny. Using special symbols such as for passwords and email addresses on the BlackBerry keyboard is also difficult and error-prone, unless you're already a proficient thumb-typist.
If your IT department allows it, the BlackBerry OS does let you set up Exchange accounts via Outlook Web Access without having a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) installed; BlackBerry OS 6 introduced it about 18 months ago and carried forward in BlackBerry OS 7 (which started life as BlackBerry OS 6.1, reflecting its minor changes). If you use BES, the setup is familiar to IT admins. To review, BES is the server that brings all that control the BlackBerry is famous for; if you're not using BES, the BlackBerry is actually less secure than an iOS or Android 4 device managed under Microsoft Exchange.
The BlackBerry persists in its puzzling time-stamping of email messages: It lists the messages according to when the device receives them, not when they are sent. (If you open the message, you can see the real date and time.) When you first set up an email account, all your available messages flood in with the same time stamp, making it hard to find the new ones. And if you're offline for a few hours, such as when on a flight, all messages that come in during that period end up with the same time stamp.
The second frustration was discovering how hard it is to navigate email. I use folders extensively to manage my messages, and navigating them on the BlackBerry requires extensive use of menus, and no easy way to go back and forth -- you don't get the persistent hierarchy as in iOS. Also, by default when you move a message to a folder, a copy stays in the top-level inbox, which is confusing -- did I read it or not? Fortunately, you can turn that dual message location off, but it's not the default.
It's not so hard to read emails on a BlackBerry, though the Bold's squatter screen means more scrolling is required. In the BlackBerry tradition, you have to use the menu keys for basic actions such as deleting, replying, and forwarding. At least now most of these options are available both from the Menu button and by long-tapping the screen to open a dialog box with icon buttons. I'm not sure why both actions don't give you the same menu style. The reliance on menu sequences is more cumbersome than the use of gestures and in-context buttons in iOS, though the small Bold screen probably precludes such a visual interface.
The BlackBerry provides a quick way to jump to the top and bottom of your message list (the T and B keys, respectively) and scroll one screen at a time (the spacebar). In contrast, iOS gives you only a shortcut to the top, by tapping the top of the screen, and Android has no such options. But the BlackBerry can only multiple-select contiguous messages (you need to use two fingers to start the selection range, an unintuitive approach), which limits the utility of such selection. There is a work-around for some situations: You can search your messages by name, subject, title, or attachment status, then select those files -- still contiguously -- to work on them.
You can search messages by several criteria -- more, in fact than in competing platforms -- as well as sort messages. Again, this is a BlackBerry exclusive.
The BlackBerry lets you view common attachment formats such as Word, Excel, and PDF, as well as see a list of the contents of zipped files so that you can open the ones you want; iOS can't do the latter. The touchscreen makes navigating and zooming of such attachments easy -- a nice improvement from the adoption of a touch UI. But the BlackBerry OS has a weird approach to returning to your message when viewing an attachment: You must press the Back key repeatedly to go through your actions in the attachment before you can return to the message containing it; there's no single-step way to go back to the message. On the positive side, once you open an attachment in an email, you see a preview of that file the next time you open that email.
As you'd expect, you can add people who email you as contacts, but the BlackBerry unnecessarily complicates the process. If it can't figure out the person's name, it forces you to enter that before it will save the contact. iOS and Android, on the other hand, let you fill in that information at another time, so at least the email address is stored for easy access later. iOS and Android also note who you respond to and add them to the quick-selection list of addressees they display as you begin tapping a name, even if they're not in the address book. The BlackBerry only displays names in the address book.